Inside Pittsburgh Sports

On Having an Identity & Being Hard to Play Against

Teams that are considered to be hard to play against in the National Hockey League are usually regarded as “heavy teams” like the Kings or Capital that just wear you down with their size, physicality and skill.

The Penguins don’t fit that type of description but they’re starting to develop their own identity with speed/skill/work ethic that might be making them one of the hardest teams to play against in the East.

This current group has bought into how they’re head coach wants them to play and they have evolved into one of hardest working Penguin teams in recent memory.

Tenacious on the puck with pressure in the offensive zone and through the middle of the ice on the back check with back pressure has the Penguins being a team that is wearing the opposition down in the second and third periods without being the typical stereotype heavy team. The Rangers, Hurricanes, and Flyers game this afternoon we’re perfect examples of that.

The Penguins have their flaws and there’s still some red flags that likely will show up more over a seven game series than in the regular season but for the first time since the Bylsma era, they have an actual identity and that’s a reason to start having some optimism with this group.

phipenguins_logo_svgzv=7Penguins – Flyers Post Game

It wasn’t just the usual suspects who were setting the tone with a strong work ethic for the Penguins in their 4-1 win on Saturday afternoon. Even Phil Kessel was doing more than just giving out love taps in the corners. Kessel created a big turnover with pressure on Ryan White in the offensive zone leading to Carl Hagelin’s second period goal to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.

Hagelin’s go-ahead goal ended up being the game winning goal, his 4th game winning goal as a Penguin.

— Another area where the Penguins improved speed can take the life out of the opposition is on the penalty kill. What the Penguins do very effectively is stand the blueline and from there they look to pressure on the outside and along the wall.

What the Penguins want the opposition to do is throw the puck around the boards. The Flyers just had no idea on how to deal with the Penguins pressure. Pittsburgh would stand the blueline and make the Flyers dump the puck in, then just provide constant pressure in eliminating the puck from getting to the slot.

— As dominant as the Penguins were in this one, the Penguins start was similar to the Rangers game last Sunday in that if the Flyers buried some chances they probably should have, who knows how this game ends up.

The Flyers were buzzing just moments into the game with the Penguins again playing sloppy defensively and dangerous in the early minutes of the first period for the third time in four games.

Pittsburgh gave up three odd man rushes just four minutes into the game with Brayden Schenn somehow failing to covert on a glorious pass from Claude Giroux off a 2-on-1 rush which should have been an easy goal.

Giving up type of chances the Penguins gave up often even up throughout a game and they did today, but there’s a little more significance in a bad way when those type of chances against are coming just minutes into a game. Can dramatically set the tone for a game.

How does this game play out if Schenn scores moments there and the same with the Rangers game Sunday where they failed to capitalize on a number of grade-A chances in the opening minutes?

Mike Sullivan downplays it being issue. “It seemed like early in the game, the puck was bouncing all over the place,” Sullivan told reporters of the Flyers getting grade-a chances.

Still, it’s a dangerous game to be playing.

With an Islanders loss, Pittsburgh moved into third place into the division and just two points behind the Rangers for second place in the Metro.

The big thing with the Penguins current five game winning streak is they’re getting some breathing room from having to play the Capitals in round 1. Pittsburgh could go out tomorrow night and beat the Capitals 5-0 and you still shouldn’t want them having a first round matchup against Washington.

Take your chances anywhere else and hope to get hot at the right time for a second or third round matchup with the Capitals, depending on where the Penguins finish.

Eastern Conference Playoff Matchups if playoffs started tomorrow

Washington (107 pts) vs *Detroit (83 pts)

New York Rangers (88 pts) vs Pittsburgh (86 pts)

Florida (89 pts) vs *New York Islanders (85 pts)

Boston Bruins (86 pts) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (85 pts)